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University of Sunderland

The role of patient, carer and public involvement in healthcare concepts and policies

Posted on: May 3, 2022
Female patient smiling up at a nurse

For more than two decades now, patients, carers and the general public have played an active role in the development of healthcare and social care policies used within the NHS. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the body responsible for providing guidance and advice to improve health and social care in the UK – started working with the wider public in this way back in 1999. 

NICE is the executive non-departmental public body of the Department of Health and Social Care in England, and its guidance, advice and quality standards for health, public health and social care practitioners – and support for their implementation – now includes contributions from:

  • Patients
  • Service users
  • Carers
  • Voluntary organisations
  • Charitable organisations
  • Community organisations

What are policies in healthcare?

According to the World Health Organization, health policy is what defines health goals, and specifies the decisions, plans and actions that need to be undertaken to achieve these goals.

It’s a fundamental component of healthcare. Health policies clarify values, define visions for the future, and set out targets and milestones. Their development is a complicated process that involves different levels of government and several other important stakeholders – and public involvement can be crucial to their success.

Take, for example, some of the most common topics in public health. Whether it’s about smoking, healthier eating, fitness and exercise, or staying safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, policies that tackle these health issues would gain little traction at all without public involvement and buy-in.

This is precisely why NICE involves the public early on in its guidance process – in their own words, the results “have a greater focus and relevance for the people most directly affected by our recommendations.”

What is the purpose of policies and procedures in health and social care?

Policies and procedures work together to create the framework in which health and social care decisions are made. They help standardise care and ensure consistency across health services and among healthcare professionals. They are key to ensuring quality care.

Policies play a big role in our everyday lives, whether we realise it or not. At many of our workplaces, for example, we adhere to human resources policies around data protection, health and safety, freedom of information, and even human rights. 

It’s no different within healthcare. Policies cover everything from the referral of patients within clinical practice, to the retention of medical records, to the accreditation of NHS Trusts by external bodies.

What is the difference between policies and procedures?

If policies determine the decisions and actions within the health service, then procedures are the specific day-to-day measures and ways of working required to ensure the policy is successful.

For example, a policy about in-patient care may include procedures that cover patient safety, personal care, quality standards, information sharing, how to offer support for family members of the patient, a toolkit for handling communication difficulties, and perhaps further information about creating a care plan or a risk assessment.

What are the policies and procedures in health and social care?

There are an ever-growing number of policies and procedures in health and social care, and these evolve over time as well.

A good example is the NHS Safeguarding Policy. This policy “sets out the statutory requirements for NHS England to discharge its appropriate accountability for safeguarding children, young people and adults at risk of harm or abuse”. In its current iteration, the policy was first published in 2014, and was last updated in 2019.

The document sets out a number of measures that are required as part of the policy, including the production of an annual safeguarding assurance report, robust training, and procedures that must be followed when reporting safeguarding concerns.

What are examples of policies in care?

Social care policies span a wide range of topics, from child protection to end-of-life care needs, and each of these will have their own policies and guidance.

In the arena of child protection, for example, guidance around safeguarding children covers areas including:

  • Preventing neglect, abuse and exploitation
  • Keeping children safe in education and other settings
  • Online safety
  • Safeguarding disabled children
  • Runaway and homeless children
  • Cross-border child protection
  • Social workers’ standards

Many people are also familiar with the Care Act, which outlines how adult social care services in England should be provided by local authorities to ensure people receive the support they need.

What are nursing policies and procedures?

Much like with health and social care more generally, the purpose of policies in nursing is to ensure a high quality, consistent service. 

And nursing staff within the NHS are keen to use policy to enhance:

  • Clinical innovation
  • Service changes
  • Professional practice

With an aim of transformational change, nursing, midwifery and care staff are contributing to a research portfolio that spans:

  • Ageing well
  • Cancer
  • Children, young people and maternity
  • Digital technology
  • Heart disease
  • Learning disability topics and autism
  • Long-term conditions
  • Mental health
  • Out-of-hospital care
  • Personalised care
  • Prevention
  • Urgent and emergency care

And, of course, this research includes input from patients, carers, and the wider public.

Patient, carer and public involvement in healthcare research

Many healthcare research funding bodies, such as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), request patient and public involvement as part of the research process, and the National Research Ethics Service (NRES) asks about plans for public involvement when researchers apply for ethical approval.

Patient, carer and public involvement can include:

  • Taking part in clinical trials
  • Working in partnership with researchers, clinicians, and health professionals

It can also play an important role in commissioning decisions.


Commissioning is the continual process within the NHS of assessing needs, planning and prioritising, purchasing, and monitoring health services, all in order to get the best health outcomes in patient care and the patient experience.

It’s a vital part of the decision-making process within health and social care, covering everything from critical care services and primary care, to nutrition and hydration.

Become a leader in healthcare policy

If healthcare policy is something that interests you, there’s no better way to get involved than from within.

Equip yourself to take on a leadership role in senior nursing with the 100% online MSc Nursing Studies from the University of Sunderland.

You’ll study patient, carer and public involvement concepts and policies, in addition to leadership, management and other key topics, and the flexible nature of the degree means you can study around your current commitments. 

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